Being Inside: Part One of Our Look At Guns, Mental Illness and Colorado

I don’t remember much about Monday, July 16, 2007 before about 2:25 in the afternoon. I was at my desk in one of the offices on the first floor of Colorado’s venerated State Capitol, a late 19th century wonder of cast iron, gold, and ornate woodwork. People seem to be affected most by the delicate layers of gold leaf that adorn the dome, but in your correspondent’s estimation the real pièce de résistance is the marble at the base of the Corinthian columns that support the walkways of the upper floors. They employ the entire known supply of Colorado Rose Onyx, a rare marble from Beulah, southwest of Pueblo.

The interior of the Capitol is cavernous, owing to the interior halls of the building being open up to the very roof of the structure. It’s a memorable public space, especially to anyone who might find his or her self on the third floor with a sudden-onset case of vertigo. Interior architecture as metaphors of public transparency and the smallness of one’s own self and interests, subordinated to the awesome scale and grandeur of the people and their elected representatives.

That’s the effect it had on me anyway, a political newbie and very small cog in the machine of the new Governor’s administration. The people who craft a living from affecting the course of public policy are by now probably numb to the whole thing, taking it for granted the way that I scarcely even now notice the majestic continental divide that unfolds in the views to the west. 

By July 16 I had had two months to become used to the silence, the din of legislators and lobbyists and tourists and schoolchildren having subsided once they vacated the premises upon adjournment sine die.

After the constitutionally limited 120-day legislative session, Colorado’s one hundred citizen legislators return to their homes to harvest their crops. Or that was the idea in 1876. The notion of a part-time, nominally compensated state legislature is anachronism for so many reasons, and we Americans hold on very tightly indeed to our historical artifacts, tangible, symbolic, and procedural.

That summer, when the Capitol had ceased being the center of public life and reverted to being merely an antiquated office building, the silence was pierced only by the occasional rumblings of construction in the southwest end of the building. This was the beginning of a multi-year project to add auxiliary stairwells to improve the circulation of the Capitol’s inhabitants throughout the building and to better secure their safety in an emergency. The contractors rendered the additions tastefully and flawlessly, adding the subtlest of design details that would fool most into thinking the stairs had always been there. Magnificent.

In the meantime, to make way for construction the Office of the Governor had been moved across the lateral axis of the building into the Lieutenant Governor’s office, directly across the hall from my office, and the Lieutenant Governor and her staff relegated to the Attorney General’s Office across the street.

On the afternoon of the 16th, most of my colleagues were down in the basement of the building attending a training in one of the conference rooms reserved between the months of January and May for House committee meetings. My economist colleague Amy and I were holding down the fort, ready to step into the breach should the state go into fiscal meltdown before the training was over. However, we weren’t exactly ready for what was to come next.

The first bullet sounded like maybe one of the contractors had inadvertently dropped Thor’s Hammer down to the marble floors below, the resulting crash reverberating more than the most ear-splitting of partisan rhetoric. Before I had enough time to answer the self-directed question: “Was that I what I think it was?”, the second gunshot exploded. The delay was probably less than a second, but it’s funny how you perceive the passage of time when your daily tedium is interrupted by the urgency of your brain turbocharging itself on adrenaline.

I don’t remember exactly how many shots were fired. What seemed like six may only have been four. When in the vicinity of pistol fire it probably behooves one’s self to pay close attention to how many rounds have been fired but I’m a lover, not a fighter goddamn it.

By then it was obvious that I was a wall away from evil. The rounds were too closely spaced, too purposeful to have been a nutjob come in from the… ah, unusual streets of Denver’s East Colfax Avenue to take random potshots inside a historically listed building.

And then there was nothing. For what could have been two or twenty minutes a sickening, pregnant pause.

I can recall thinking that if the Governor had been the target, there should have been a lot of noisy chaos in the aftermath. Where were the elite State Patrol members who guarded the first floor? Did the shooter empty his clip? Do I leave the anonymity of my cubicle and go lock the door to the office at the expense of breaking the silence? What the fuck is going on?

Amy found me, and we locked the door and waited for something to happen. Somewhere between three minutes and eternity, someone from the outside turned the doorknob and failed to open the massive, ancient frosted-glassed wooden door.

Then we heard knocking, and I felt firsthand what it is like to be completely powerless.

And then the door opened.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Hi, if you stumbled upon this post and haven't read Part One, best to start there. Thx, the [...]

  2. [...] Hello, if you haven't done so already, read parts one and two of this three-part entry. Thanks. [...]

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